Acute beds at psych units ‘lying vacant’

Emergency beds are being “under-utilised” at some of Cork’s mental health units and community services must be modernised, according to the HSE.

HSE Cork area manager Ger Reaney said up to a third of the acute psychiatric beds at St Stephen’s Hospital, Glanmire, and Bantry General Hospital are lying vacant or being used by patients who no longer had acute needs.

As part of a major overhaul of mental health services in the South under the Department of Health’s Vision for Change programme, the HSE plans to close nine of St Stephen’s 26 acute beds in the next few weeks and the remaining 17 by September.

Psychiatric emergencies in the North Lee area will now have to present at St Michael’s Ward at the Mercy University Hospital — even though the Psychiatric Nurses Association says it already has a waiting list.

Patients in the South Lee area will be directed to Cork University Hospital’s psychiatric wing.

A further 15 beds at the 39-bed Carraig Mór intensive psychiatric care unit at Shanakiel will then transfer to St Stephen’s in Glanmire.

As part of the HSE move to reduce overnight admissions to acute psychiatric hospitals, there is to be a corresponding investment in community mental health teams. It is hoped 10 such teams will be in place around Cork by the middle of this year.

There is only one home-based treatment team in Cork at present, in the North Lee area. It is hoped a team will be developed for the South Lee area.

There are also plans to develop day hospitals, which will eventually be opened all week, at Bantry, Mallow, Douglas, Ballincollig, and at St Mary’s Orthopaedic on the northside of Cork City. These will be used by the community teams to make mental health assessments.

One such unit is already in place at St Mary’s but only works 9-5, Monday to Friday.

According to Mr Reaney, the HSE has hired 100 staff to bolster mental health services in Cork. The community and home-based teams will be composed of these staff and those relocating from acute settings.

Mr Reaney told the HSE South Forum that €12m in additional funding was being made available to ensure an improvement in mental health services.

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